What's Stress Got To Do With It? Working Women Find Out In Heart Health Month

Learning how to manage stress at work is key in Women's Heart Health Month and far beyond.

Learning how to manage stress at work is key in Women's Heart Health Month and far beyond.

In the final days of Women’s Heart Health Month this February, it’s the ideal time for working women, women leaders, female innovators, entrepreneurs and CEOs to move forward, address the stress and make a year-long, lifelong plan to destress, for heart’s sake.“Suffering and stress lead to illness,” writes Dr. Mammekwa Mokgoro who specializes in chronic disease prevention, stress management and women’s health and wellness.Understanding how work and stress are connected to your overall health is a step toward wellness.[bctt tweet=“Understanding how work & stress connect to health is a step toward wellness #womenshealth” username=“takeleadwomen”]“Everything is connected. This process does not require perfection, it simply requires cognizance – awareness. We all want to succeed – empower yourself to be empowered. This commitment to boundaries and flexible but determinate discipline will help you achieve your goals and result in lowered stress levels,” Mokgoro writes in Huffington Post.Whether you are logging in 50 hours per week in an office or a start-up, or are working from home in your own enterprise, staying attuned to your levels of stress is key for all working women.“Learn to identify when you are feeling stress and strain. In this moment, ask yourself, ‘How can I do this better?’ Maybe it’s a change of mind – the way you think about something – maybe it’s rearranging circumstances and schedules to create more fluidity. Maybe it’s to set better boundaries. You’d be surprised how setting boundaries can at times, be the key to peace,” Mokgoro writes.This is neither idle nor flippant advice. This is life-saving information for all working women.According to New York Presbyterian Hospital, heart disease “is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, killing 289,758 women in 2013—that’s about 1 in every 4 female deaths.”“One in three women — 43 million — are living with cardiovascular disease, many without knowing it.  Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms,” according to hospital stats.“Risk factors for developing heart disease are the same between both sexes and include smoking, uncontrolled hypertension, diabetes, obesity, family history, and age.  It is important to note that post-menopausal women are at an increased risk,” according to NY-Presbyterian.While prevalent among women, heart disease can be held at bay and avoided. According to NY Presbyterian, here are some key management tools:

  • Manage your blood pressure. Keep the systolic, top number, below 120 and the diastolic, the bottom number, at less than 80.

  • Manage your blood sugar: Diabetes can damage blood vessels over time, leading to heart disease.Manage your cholesterol: When there is too much cholesterol in your blood, arteries become narrowed and blood flow to the heart muscle is slowed down or blocked.Don’t smoke: Smoking damages the lining of your arteries, leading to a buildup of fatty material, which narrows the artery. This can cause angina (severe chest pain), a heart attack or a stroke.

  • Exercise regularly: Among other things, exercise lowers blood pressure, reducing strain on the heart.

  • Eat a healthy diet: This includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, low-fat dairy, whole grains and non-saturated fats. A healthy diet will help you lose weight and avoid the heart complications excess weight can bring.

While a high percentage of all women are at risk of heart disease, stress and other serious factors affecting health are higher in women of color.“Research shows that women experience more mental health problems than men, due to the stress of juggling many roles. Masking up as superwomen might be killing black women, whether it’s as the result of heart disease, other life-threatening illnesses, or severe depression that could potentially lead to suicide,” Carolyn M. Brown writes in Black Enterprise.“According to a report by Lantern, a web-based therapy company, women are 11 percent more stressed and 16 percent more anxious than males. The younger you are, the less emotionally well you’re likely to be, with 18-24-year-olds having 25 percent higher social anxiety, 19 percent higher levels of depression, 11 percent more stress, and 13 percent are less happy than average males in high positions,” Brown writes.In the United Kingdom, a Labor Force Survey in 2015-16 reports that stress was the cause of 37 percent of all work-related illnesses, according to HR Tech Weekly.“Stress is the cause of millions of lost working days every year which has a detrimental effect on a business. Many employers are keen to take steps to reduce the impact of stress on their staff and thus their business,” according to HR Tech.Long work hours, high expectations, money concerns, job security— all these account for stress that is connected to work for millions of working women. Many women work well more than the expected 40 hours per week, and self-employed women work generally way more than that. This may not be optimal for good health.[bctt tweet=“Long hours, high expectations, money concerns, & job security account for work related #stress” username=“takeleadwomen”]According to The New Daily, “Australian National University used data from 8, 000 working adults as part of the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey and found when men and women were considered separately, the healthy work limit was 34 hours per week for women once other commitments were considered. The researchers said this was because generally, men spent much less time on care or domestic work than women.”Agreed. Work is stressful. Stress is bad for overall health and heart health in particular. So what can you do about it all not just in Heart Health Month, but throughout the year and throughout your lifetime?“Studies show that healthy lifestyle choices have resulted in 330 fewer women dying from heart disease per day,” according to NY Presbyterian.“The key takeaway is that with the right information, education, and care, heart disease in women can be treated and, in many instances, prevented in the first place,” says Dr. Frank Dorsa, a cardiologist at New York-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital.[bctt tweet=“Being diligent about work-related stress can keep you heart healthy & able to accomplish goals” username=“takeleadwomen”]Remaining diligent about work-related stress and bolstering your life with a healthy lifestyle can keep a woman heart healthy and able to accomplish her goals. Research shows exercise also helps you expand your cognitive abilities and perhaps accelerates your climb up the ladder to the C-suite.Not just in February, but all year long, “Define your own terms, Leadership Power Tool #2, created by Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take The Lead— all while maintaining your health— creates your optimal effectiveness as a leader. Power Tool #1, “Know your history,” means knowing your health history as well and acting on it.